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Donovan Mitchell breaks the formula

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Your advanced analytics don’t tell the whole story

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Utah Jazz Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

I’m a big fan of reality television. Survivor, Big Brother, Chopped, the Bachelor. I watch all of it.

All of these shows have significant differences but also share one thing, a strict formula.

On this season of The Bachelor Colton did something he’s not supposed to. He broke the formula.

Normally on the Bachelor a girl is sent home every week until the last week when the Bachelor picks the girl he wants to marry. This season, Colton broke out of the parameters of the show and confessed his love for one of the girls three episodes before the finale.

It completely changed the show and no one knows what to expect for the upcoming finale. The interesting thing is it has made the show better.

Because I’m a weirdo, I couldn’t help but think of how this connected to the Utah Jazz.

In the last decade basketball has changed in a lot of ways. Teams have embraced the fact that three points is worth more than two and getting easy buckets at the rim, and at the free throw line, is better than watching a center pound the ball and then take a hook shot that goes in maybe half the time.

Statistics have also taken a huge leap. A glance at box scores isn’t good enough any more. Two players can have similar box scores but one can prove out to be a more impactful player with various advanced analytics.

Because writers and fans are getting smarter and smarter, players can’t hide behind empty-calorie type numbers. For example, a player scoring a lot of points on a bad team is probably benefiting from garbage time scoring. They’re not having to put up numbers as often in high-pressure situations.

Utah Jazz v Denver Nuggets Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

As positive as advanced numbers are, and the insight they bring, it feels like an unwritten formula is forming with how the blogosphere judges players.

For a player to be considered “good” they have to fit into specific parameters now. Their percentages have to be at a certain point, they need to have a certain TS% and EFG%, they have to have certain percentage of shots at the rim and shots from three. If they don’t hit these parameters then they aren’t considered a high-level player.

Donovan Mitchell is breaking those formulas.

Mitchell has put up numbers as a rookie and sophomore that are remarkable. Although, if you ask someone that doesn’t watch the Jazz on a regular basis, they’ll throw numbers at you saying Mitchell isn’t one of the “elite” players in the league. “He doesn’t have the right FG percentage, he doesn’t have enough assists or rebounds or a high enough EFG%” etc. etc. etc.

What’s the category that Mitchell excels in the most? Wins.

An advanced analytics guy will laugh at that but the fact is that Donovan Mitchell is the lead scoring threat on a team that continues to rise in the playoff picture in the most difficult conference, and division, in the league.

I enjoy advanced analytics because they’re a great way to get a snapshot of a player and their effectiveness, but advanced stats can’t be the only measure of a player. Context is vital when considering a player’s effectiveness.

When you consider that the starting lineup for Mitchell all season has consisted of only one other consistent shooter, his ability to score despite that is a sign of just how good he is and will be. Mitchell consistently finds ways to scores despite opposing defenses packing the paint to stop him by sagging off of the other non shooters in the starting lineup.

Mitchell also takes on the scoring responsibility to end games. How has he done?

For a player that isn’t the most “efficient” I’d say that’s pretty good. And those numbers pass the eye test as well. Mitchell has taken the team on his back multiple times this year and pulled out victories that most players couldn’t.

Has he been perfect? No. But you can attribute a lot of closes losses to things out of his control. An unlucky putback against Golden State, or a Pelican being in the perfect spot to pull a rebound away from Joe Ingles against New Orleans.

The most interesting thing about that chart? The “more efficient” rookie in Philadelphia doesn’t seem to be carrying his team to victories quite as well.

That’s why context matters.

I recently talked with two high ranking officials in the NBA and our talks eventually touched on Donovan Mitchell. I can’t say everything they said but the most important thing is that they said to give him a couple more years and he’ll be one of the best in the league, if not already.

When you consider how good Mitchell has been despite not having a perfect team composition like other rookies he’s compared to, it’s hard not to get excited about the future.

How will we look at Mitchell when his advanced stats catch up to his stellar talent? That’s when things start to get really exciting. On top of that, if Utah is able to put the right pieces next to him as he evolves and play to his strengths, that’s when words like contender start getting thrown around.

The formula for a championship doesn’t include a small market team winning. With time, Donovan Mitchell is going to break that formula also.